Lothar Wolfgang Nordheim

Honorary Degree Recipient

  • Doctor of Science, Purdue University 1963

Lothar Wolfgang Nordheim was born in Munich, Germany in 1899. In l923 he received his Ph. D. degree in Physics from the University of Göttingen. In the years immediately following he took part in the efforts to apply the still inadeqnate theory of the day to the understanding of atomic structure and behavior. As the tools of modern quantum theory became available, he applied them to the study of solids, and made a long series of distinguished contributions to the early development of solid state physics. Among his famous papers are those on the work function of metals, thermionic emission from metals, the resistivity of metals and alloys, and the rectifying action of semiconductorto-metal contacts.

His distinguished contributions to this field led him to be invited to make a book length contribution to the famous Muller Pouillets Handbook of Physice, where he wrote on the statistical and kinetic theory of the metallic state, and on the quantum theory of magnetism. During this period he lectured at Göttingen, and was the holder of a Rockefeller Foundation Research Fellowship, a Lorentz Fellowship, and was a Visiting Professor at the University of Moscow.

After the rise of Hitler he came to Purdue University as Visiting Professor, under the sponsorship of the Emergency Committee for Displaced German Scholars. At Purdue he directed the Ph. D. research of graduate students in the field of solid state physics, while he began to turn his own attention to the study of cosmic rays. During the following years he participated in the analyses of cosmic ray phenomena that finally led to the modern understanding of the role of mesons in cosmic ray showers. In this work he collaborated with his wife, Gertrud Pöschl, who also worked actively on the theory of the structure of polyatomic molecules and their spectra.

In 1937 Dr. Nordheim accepted a Professorship at Duke University. When the Manhattan project was set up he was called upon to accept Important responsibilities at the Oak Ridge facility. He served as section chief in the "Clinton Laboratories", the forerunner of the present Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and from 1945 to 1947 he was Director of the Physics Division of that laboratory. In 1947 he returned to Duke, while continuing to serve as consultant at Oak Ridge and the Los Alamos laboratory. During this period he contributed to the theory of cosmic ray showers, and was one of the earliest contributors to the development of the shell theory of nuclear structure. In 1956 he accepted a research position at the John J. Hopkins Laboratory for Pure and Applied Science, of General Atomics, in San Diego, wbere he became Chairman of the Theoretical Physics Department, and coutinued research in the fields which he entered In the early days at Oak Ridge, reactor and neutron physics.

Purdue is Indebted to Dr. Nordheim for the impetus he gave to the development of theoretical research in physics on this campus, and for the early training of several of its later professors. He established contacts, which, during the ensuing years, brought many distinguished visitors to this campus.

Last Updated: Apr 29, 2016 4:13 PM